Newswise — Auburn University researchers investigating ways to control tiny, blood-thirsty black flies have discovered a protein in the flies' saliva that speeds the healing of surgical incisions and have been awarded a U.S. patent on the technology.

Ed and Mary Cupp, Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station research entomologists, discovered the protein, which black flies inject into their prey to increase blood flow in their victims' skin.

Taking that protein, Mary Cupp and Steven Swaim, small-animal surgery professor emeritus in AU's College of Veterinary Medicine, conducted a study which determined that surgical incisions treated with solutions that combine antibiotics and the protein heal faster and stronger than incisions treated with antibiotics alone.

In an article published earlier this year in the nation's leading wound care journal, Mary Cupp and Swaim reported their findings regarding the protein's healing powers for surgical incisions in humans as well as in pets and livestock. Furthermore, they said, their research indicates the protein will work in a similar way to speed the healing of chronic wounds, such as skin ulcers and diabetic foot lesions.

Auburn's Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) currently is marketing the technology to existing companies as well as to entrepreneurs who might consider forming a startup venture around the technology. At least two entities are showing strong interest in the project, OTT officials said. If a product is developed using the technology, AU will receive royalties from its sales.

Swaim is known globally for his expertise in the field of small animal wound healing and reconstructive surgery. The Cupps, a husband-and-wife team in AU's College of Agriculture, specialize in control of livestock-biting insects. They currently are in the final stages of testing a vaccine they have developed that would shield cattle from horn flies, serious pests that feed by the thousands on cattle and drain close to $1 billion a year from the U.S. beef industry.

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